Horse Racing

3 Dark Horse Picks to Win the 2024 Kentucky Derby

FanDuel Staff
FanDuel Staff
3 Dark Horse Picks to Win the 2024 Kentucky Derby

With up to 20 horses running in the Kentucky Derby over 1 ¼ miles, a distance none of the horses has yet tried, it’s no wonder that a long shot or two always runs well in the Run for the Roses.

Even though the Kentucky Derby race favorite typically runs well—the betting choice has never been out of the superfecta since the advent of the points system in 2013—you’ll always find one or two dark horses make it into the exotics at least. In fact, no Kentucky Derby favorite has won in the last five years, meaning horses who are longer in the Kentucky Derby odds have emerged as bona fide win candidates, too.

When planning your horse racing betting strategy for the first Saturday in May, make sure to consider these three long shots. They might just shock the horse racing world like Country House, Rich Strike, and Mage before them.

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1. Honor Marie

Honor Marie may get ignored on the tote board after finishing second to Catching Freedom in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds. However, there is a lot weighing in favor of this Whit Beckman trainee. Just like horses who will be shorter prices in the Kentucky Derby betting, including Catching Freedom or Sierra Leone, Honor Marie is a late-running type who should benefit from the crackling early pace that looks likely in the Run for the Roses.

Honor Marie is also hitting just the right part of his form cycle: he won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in the third start of his juvenile campaign. The Kentucky Derby will have him at the third start of his sophomore season. Even though he finished only fifth in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) in his first start of the year, the second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby was a step forward, and he can move forward again.

Honor Marie also has an appealing distance pedigree. The bay colt is by Honor Code, a stoutly-bred son of Belmont Stakes winner A. P. Indy who was a Grade 1 winner up to 1 ⅛ miles and Grade 1-placed at 1 ¼ miles. He is out of the Smart Strike mare Dame Marie, a half-sister to Rule of Law, who won the St. Leger (G1) at 1 ¾ miles.

There is also every indication that Honor Marie thrives at Churchill Downs. Not only did he win the Kentucky Jockey Club there last year, but he worked very well over the surface on April 25.

2. Just a Touch

Just a Touch cedes experience to much of the field, with only three starts leading into the Kentucky Derby. However, that didn’t stop Mage from upsetting the Kentucky Derby in 2023, and perhaps Just a Touch can follow suit in 2024.

The pace is likely to be hot in the Kentucky Derby, but his performance in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) is enough to make him look interesting despite the fact that he will be forwardly placed. That day he attended near a fast pace, took command into the land, and was able to stay well clear of everyone except for top-class closer Sierra Leone. It was an effort that showed grit and stamina. If he can work out a similar trip: set a length or two behind the speed, he could be good enough to keep chasing on and finish in the mix, near the closers—think the sort of trip Two Phil’s got when finishing second to Mage in 2023.

His pedigree and his connections also appeal. On pedigree, he is by Triple Crown winner Justify, a horse whose progeny have improved with distance, out of a Tapit mare. And, he is trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, connections who had long shot Mandaloun ready to run the race of his life on Kentucky Derby day, 2021.

3. Just Steel

D. Wayne Lukas has won the Kentucky Derby four times already, and he has an interesting long shot in the 2024 Kentucky Derby with Just Steel. His past performances are a testament to Lukas’ old-school training style: with some horses coming into the Run for the Roses with as few as two or three starts, Just Steel has 11 races underneath him, more than anyone else in the field. To the extent that a three-year-old can, he has seen it all: fast paces and slow paces, dry tracks and wet tracks. He has also handled the Churchill dirt well: he won the Ed Brown Stakes there last November.

Just Steel used the Arkansas races as his prep series, showing up for all four points races during the Oaklawn meet. Though he did not win any of the races, he finished second in three out of four of them: the Smarty Jones Stakes, the Southwest Stakes (G3), and the 1 ⅛-mile Arkansas Derby. He has the tactical speed to stay out of the likely skirmish on the lead but get the jump on the closers, a running style that should at least have him in the frame on Derby day if he runs his best.

Just Steel also has an attractive pedigree for the stretch out to 1 ¼ miles. He is by Triple Crown winner Justify, whose progeny are thriving at longer distances. And, even though his dam Irish Lights won her Group 1 race at a mile (the 2009 Thousand Guineas at Caulfield in Australia), her sire Fastnet Rock is a world-renowned stamina influence.

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